Jacqueline Bublitz on bringing the dead girl back to life: ‘I didn’t set out to write a crime novel’


As any reader of crime fiction is aware of, dead ladies on web page one are a dime a dozen. The method has been tried and examined advert nauseam: a mutilated physique is found in grisly vogue, forensic mysteries and inconsistencies observe, after which lots of of pages are involved with whodunnit.

Apologies to crime fiction purveyors and followers alike for the reductionist take, however hey, that’s method for you.

On web page one in every of Jacqueline Bublitz’s debut novel Before You Knew My Name, there’s a dead girl, however she received’t be left at the crime scene and he or she received’t be silenced by the normal routine. Alice Lee is dead, sure – she tells us so – however on this guide the voice of the sufferer, quite than the identification of the perpetrator, is prioritised.

“I didn’t set out to write a crime novel,” says the New Zealand-born writer, “So I wasn’t actually even trying to subvert anything by giving Alice the microphone. What I wanted to do was explore who this young woman was before she died, who she was before this terrible thing happened her, and to give her a voice that wasn’t only about the worst thing that happened to her.”

With the worst factor declared upfront, we don’t have to fear about spoilers: Alice Lee is eighteen and a current arrival in New York, having fled her residence state of Wisconsin after a unhappy and troubled childhood. No one is absolutely wanting out for Alice when her physique is discovered by Ruby, a 36-year-old Australian lady who has left a job she doesn’t love and an unhealthy affair with a man she can’t have, to begin afresh in New York. She’s on an early morning run by the Hudson River when her life intersects with Alice’s dying, inextricably connecting these two girls and forming a relationship between them that offers the novel its construction.

It is from this intersection that Bublitz’s narrative travels: forwards as we observe Ruby, lonely and time-rich, as she tries to discover out who this younger lady was; and backwards as Alice, lately dead however not but correctly dispatched, stays shut to Ruby and shares the particulars of her life from past her dying.

“When I was writing I read a newspaper headline that said, ‘If you want to kill your novel, have a dead narrator’, and so initially I was writing Alice in the past but her voice was just so strong and so compelling … and I thought, what if I just bring her into the present?”

It was a choice, political in a manner, that reclaims energy for the sufferer but additionally provides platform to Bublitz’s personal feminist rage at gendered violence.

“I’m a capital F feminist and my friends say, ‘Oh yes, there you are on the page’, but hopefully not too much. I don’t want this book to be like a sign I am holding up at a rally.

When Jacqueline Bublitz’s father died, she went back to her manuscript and introduced a group of characters to help her make sense of it. Photograph: The Guardian

“[Alice] allowed me to have this gentle rage come through about the kind of crime she experienced. Growing up I always knew the difference between the way I needed to navigate my safety and the way, say, my brother did or my male friends did … it was being aware – not from my own experience but certainly from my surroundings – of issues around domestic violence and what we now call gender-based violence … From a very young age, I was righteous and angry about injustice.

“I mean, pick and choose how many things you can get righteous and angry about when it comes to injustice, but gender-based violence was always the thorn that I’ve not been able to pick out.”

For all that freight, the guide wears it evenly. The subject material is heavy – rape, homicide, questions of the afterlife – however Bublitz manages it with a deft hand. The voice of Alice, energetic like an 18-year-old – barely “pissed off”, as Bublitz places it, to be dead so quickly – and the presence of a group of New Yorkers referred to as the Death Club, who Ruby meets with repeatedly, maintain the narrative shot via with rays of sunshine.

Before You Knew My Name by Jacqueline Bublitz, out June 2021 through Allen and Unwin

And a unusual form of consolation too. Fundamental to the guide is a hope that there exists some form of consciousness after dying – or not less than a suspension of disbelief, as Alice hovers over the story till the ultimate pages. The Death Club – made up of warmly drawn characters who all reside with some perpetual proximity to dying (a mom who was together with her daughter when she died in a automobile accident, an embalmer who cares deeply for her work, a younger man who was introduced back to life after a biking accident) – additionally acts as a form of Greek refrain standing round the central theme.

“My father passed away while I was writing the book, and soon after he died I went back and had a look [at my draft] and felt there was something missing. So I went back to the Death Club, and I thought about all the questions that I had. We’re talking very soon after Dad passed away, in the first three months, and I was with him all through his illness and through his death.

“I had so many questions and the only thing I wanted to do was talk to people who were asking the same questions. So the same sort of questions are being asked by the Death Club.

“Questions like: do you know when you die? Let alone what happens after … Death Club helps [Alice] process what happens to her. And I hope for readers, it might bring a little comfort to talk about some things we don’t normally talk about.”

Does Bublitz herself imagine in some form of consciousness after dying?

“It’s something I think about a lot, but I would say I am happy not to know. Usually I am the kind of person who will dig as far as I can to get the answer to something. But whether there is consciousness after death – what if the answer is no? That would make me really sad. But if the answer is yes, that might change the way we live our lives.

“So perhaps it’s something we’re not meant to know, but I do believe that the dead are always with us, and each of has to learn by ourselves how we hold on to them … But do I have any firm ideas on what happens next? No.”



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